Wednesday Word of the Week: Refugee

refugee (rehf-yoo-GEE). n. person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval. (National Geographic Education)

Refugees have no choice. You do. This is the message from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for World Refugee Day 2012, recognized today. Refugees are people who have had to make the difficult decision to leave their own country in order to guarantee their personal safety. For many of them, this means leaving their family, their homeland, and everything that is familiar to them.

Furthermore, an estimated 47 percent of refugees are under the age of 18. The video below documents the journey of Sudan’s “Lost Boys”. Almost an entire generation of Sudanese youth have resettled to the United States fleeing a civil war that ended in 2005.

Video courtesy of National Geographic Education.

The Lost Boys and refugees like them are just one category of people who must uproot their lives because they have no other choice. Refugees fall under the umbrella term of forcibly displaced people, those who have no option but to leave their homeland in order to survive. Other forcibly displaced people include asylum-seekers and internally displaced people (IDP’s).

The spread of forcibly displaced people is by nature a global issue.
Violent conflict and famine in Somalia has sent almost 100,000 Somalis
to the United States since 2000. Haiti’s 2010 earthquake caused over
11,000 Haitians to relocate to the United States in that year alone.
Displaced people and their movement across the globe highlight our
interconnectedness more than almost any other world issue.

Here you can use National Geographic Education’s MapMaker Interactive to explore where in the world these people are coming
from and where they are going.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic Education.

The more we learn about these populations and their personal battles,
the better prepared we will be as a host society. The United States is
second only to Germany in the number of refugees and asylees it
resettles each year and has the fourth largest population overall of
resettled displaced people within its borders. In 2010, there were over
270,000 refugees living in the United States, more people than in the
country of Barbados. Worldwide there are over 44 million forcibly
displaced people, or twice the population of Australia. Use these
National Geographic Education resources to learn more about displaced

Case studies


But today, on World Refugee Day, I will go beyond just learning. I don’t
have to travel the world or even surf the Internet to get a true
understanding of my relationship to displaced peoples in my community.
They are my neighbors and my friends. Their sons and daughters are my
classmates. They are my peers. From my hometown of San Francisco to
where I go to school in Minnesota, refugees are just as much a part of
the fabric of my society as any native-born citizen.

Refugees have no choice. I do. And today I choose to honor them.

To find out more about what you can do for World Refugee Day 2012, visit the UN World Refugee Day website.

— Ryan Schleeter for National Geographic Education

Editor’s note: Ryan is interning with National Geographic Education
throughout the summer of 2012.  He creates and modifies online
educational content for the National Geographic Education website,
specializing in educational technology.  He will be entering his senior
year at Macalaster College, in St. Paul, Minnesota, this fall.

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